Teens in Quarantine
Last month, we shared the New York Times article "The Hardest Fight to Have with Your Teen" in which author Jessica Grose examined how adolescents are handling pandemic conditions. After reading her piece, we decided to ask Grier students about their experiences.
ADJUSTING TO A DIFFERENT WAY OF LIFE
When asked how life is different now than it was pre-pandemic, the major changes were the decrease in mobility, changes in social dynamics, and a new appreciation of former freedoms. These are also the aspects our Grier students found the most difficult to cope with at the pandemic’s onset.
Whether living at home or boarding, just like teens everywhere, our Grier students’ ability to leave their residence is limited. In the early days of the pandemic, staying at home was the most difficult adjustment for our students.
The Grier students who responded to our questionnaire each spent a time of social isolation with their families. Some families rediscovered a fun past-time, as described by one senior, “I got back into a card game I liked, and we started playing more things together, which was fun. It’s not too different from a weekend, expect it’s just a very long weekend now.” Others struggled to find connections with family members: “They’re ok, but both have significantly different interests than me.” While the time of home lock-down was stifling for most of us, one student noted an additional stress for some, “Not everyone has a great home life, so it was very difficult to have nowhere else to go for months on end.” This time also brought some distant and busy families together. “Although I missed Grier every single day, it was nice for my whole family to be together. Since my sister and both moved away to attend Grier when we were 13, it has been hard to find time for my whole family to be together. Although it took a pandemic to get us all under the same roof, I am so thankful for the months I got to spend with my family.”
The limitations to movement extend into the school year. In previous years at Grier, Annie would enjoy weekend trips to superstores to stock up on her favorite groceries, but she says, “now I have to use just what's at Grier with the exception of non-perishables from Target [pick-up].” Liza writes, “I do miss being able to go wherever without constantly having to worry about whether I have a mask, if we have hand sanitizer,” and Lucy sums it up, writing, “You have to take extra precautions when you’re out in public.”
Socialization is also different and more limited. Day student Liza says, “Gatherings aren't quite as common anymore, and we can't visit friends the way we used to. Whenever we do spend time with friends, it's always online now.” Annie, a boarding student laments, “I also used to hang out with my day student friends, but now they have to go home and it's hard to spend time with them. Obviously this isn't terrible because I'm still at Grier, but it is significant in my life.” Nova writes about the pain being separated from close friends during the spring school closure, “At the beginning of the pandemic, I struggled to cope with the distance between me and my best friends. We are all used to living in the dorms together where we can hangout whenever we want. [....] we were all stuck in different countries, unsure of when we would see each other next. “
The responses of the students demonstrate a significant feeling of loss, but also a sense of appreciation for all that they still have. Nova reflects, “Since the pandemic, I have learned to take nothing for granted because nothing is guaranteed. I have opened my eyes to what I have to be grateful for and try to remind myself of how lucky I am each day.”
TIME TO HEAL AND GROW
While limited physical interactions with others, restricted movement, and abundant time with family was difficult on occasion, the students found unexpected benefits or “silver linings” to their situations.
Some students like Lucy used the time for personal growth. “I’ve [been] focusing more on myself, “ Lucy shares, “and this time has given me [a chance] to think about what I want to do further in life.” Others, like Liza, practiced their talents. “I like to draw and sing a lot, and the pandemic gave me a lot of time to do that,” Liza notes, adding, “I kind of wish summer didn’t end quite yet because I miss having the freedom of doing whatever I wanted.”
Teens and parents tested and ultimately strengthened their relationships. Time together during the pandemic, “forced my Mom and I to mend our relationship a bit. Usually, I would ignore any issues we had, [...] but being with her 24/7 has allowed us to work out some of our differences,” notes a senior boarding student.
Nova describes how this time has helped her grow and adopt a life philosophy. She reflects, “Now that there is so much uncertainty in the world, I have learned to live in the moment. Although my schedule is busy and can be overwhelming, I try to stop and smell the roses whenever I have the chance because the same opportunities might not be available tomorrow.”
COPING AND FINDING SUPPORT
Overall, the students have adjusted to everyday life during the pandemic, but they are not immune to the ever-present tensions of the world in which they inhabit. They indicated that fears of contracting the coronavirus themselves or of a loved one contracting it topped their lists of concerns. If the New York Times article is any indicator, teens are likely also concerned with big issues such as political and racial tensions and climate change, along with important personal concerns such as their academic performance, social life, and mental health.
Sophomore Edie speaks about the politicizing of information and its divisiveness, but also how media can be used to foster positive change. She witnessed the striking political division most notably on social media pertaining to Covid precautions, writing that she saw “posts … go from being primarily about staying safe and protecting others’ health [to] a political statement.” She observed the evolution of her social media feeds from a stream of carefully composed images of everyday life to political proclamations. Although she has found the political waters murky and difficult to navigate at times, she says, “it has been really cool, though, to see so many friends and acquaintances speak up for their beliefs and use our voices on social media to instill positive change.” She notes with awe that the Grier student body has the power to reach diverse audiences, and “we each can change our own pocket of society for the better.”
The student respondents each found ways to cope with stress and beat out boredom, and each connected with supportive people. “My outlet is, and always has been, dance. During the quarantine, I missed Grier’s dance studios dearly, but I found space in my house to move wherever I could. I was so grateful to have dance as my outlet and even more grateful to share it with my sister, Estella,” writes Nova. “Estella and I leaned on each other for support when times got stressful, or when we were bored and needed someone to talk to.” Other students enjoyed socializing online or outdoors, horseback riding, spending time with pets, watching videos, and playing games.
While students miss certain aspects of Grier life prior to the pandemic, they are happy for the chance to return to school, even with all the changes to mitigate Covid risk and facilitate a hybrid learning scheme. Lucy found the initial quarantine period upon arrival “a little rough,” but knows it was worth it “because then we could hangout [...] I’m really happy to be back and be with my friends.” Edie was pleasantly surprised that expressing herself while masked and social distancing was easier than she imagined. “I thought people wouldn’t be making as many new social connections, which has been somewhat true, but not as much as I had feared.”
The in-person students responded with gratitude to be back at Grier and in the classroom and on campus. One junior student wrote, “My experience attending in person classes this year is something I am beyond grateful for. It took a little while to adjust to the new schedule and precautions, but it is all worth it to attend school in person, full time. I know that I am getting the most out of my education, despite the pandemic, while staying as safe as possible.” Even though the safety precautions can feel restrictive at times, another student acknowledges, “I’m grateful for the [weekend] activities on campus that keep us occupied.”
Although uncertainty makes planning for the future a challenge, the students express hope for a successful and safe school year with a return to a more familiar and more comfortable way of life on the horizon.
As a result of their pandemic experiences, the students have grown wiser and more resilient, and they show a greater appreciation for the essentials. Lucy felt that warmer weather and the ability to safely socialize outside improved her quality of life. Nova embraced the notion of finding comfort where she can and letting go of what is beyond her control. With fewer distractions and a wealth of free time, Annie strengthened her organization skills and increased her productivity. Liza, too, found her stride and says she has “gotten better at staying on top of things.”
“It’s been tough,” says Lucy, “but if we work hard, wear our masks, and do our part to keep everyone safe, hopefully, we will get through this and life will get as back to normal as it can.”